The Woman Clothed in the Sun

Categories: Church Eschatology › Views of Eschatology › Partial Preterism


12:1 A great sign appeared in the sky: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 And being pregnant she was crying out in labor, being in great pain to give birth.>

3 And another sign appeared in the sky: behold, a dragon, huge, fiery red, having seven heads and ten horns, with seven diadems on his heads. 4 And his tail grabbed a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.>

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth in order to devour her Child as soon as she gave birth. 5 And she bore a Son, a male, who would shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was snatched up to God, even to His throne.>

6 And the woman fled into the wilderness to where she has a place prepared by God, so that they may nourish her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.


There have been four main interpretations of the woman. Dispensationalists have often seen the woman as

What is the great sign in the Old Testament associated withis this imagery? Isaiah's virgin birth.

What is the seed of the woman? Isaiah gives a great sign.

Who is the woman of the seed?

Is it just Mary? No. Is it just Sarah? No. Is it just Eve? No.

Who the woman is not

Not Eve

Not unbelieving Israel

Not Mary

Not the New Testament church

Who the woman is


Her pregnancy and birth represent a great sign

She exists before Christ was born

She was currently in heaven

The Old Testament uses this imagery to describe Zion above or the elect church

12:2. Since the woman is Israel, the child is the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. v 5). The labor and birth pains are pictures of the grief and sorrow that the nation of Israel experienced in OT days at the hand of Satan in his attempts to prevent the Messiah from coming. This agonizing struggle between Satan and Israel has been going on from the very beginning (cf. Gen 3:15).

Robert Vacendak, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1292.

1, 2. A woman clothed with the sun. A woman is used as a symbol many times in the Scriptures. “Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh.” (Isaiah 62:11.) Here the reference is to the Church. Again Paul (Gal. 4:31) says, “Ye are not the children of the bond woman, but of the free woman.” All are agreed that here the free woman represents the Church. Again (Rev. 21:2), John sees the New Jerusalem descending adorned as a bride to meet her husband. The bride, the Lamb’s wife, here and in the ninth verse, indeed in every place spoken of, is the Church. Once more: Paul speaks of Jerusalem, the mother of us all, alluding again to the Church. This symbol, then, is a common one to represent the Church, and we are justified in declaring that to be its meaning in this passage. The fact that she is clothed with the sun symbolizes the fact that the true Church shines with the light of the sun of righteousness. The moon under her feet represents the Old Testament, or dispensation, which shone by a reflected right and is subordinate to the New Covenant of the Church. The crown of twelve stars is explained by the twelve apostles, lights of the Church and a crown of glory to it. 2. She being with child cried. Again we must let the Scripture explain its own meaning. “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” (Isaiah 66:8.) The travail of Zion causeth an increase. See also Isaiah 54:1 and 49:20, where the same figure is used. The state of the woman therefore implies a Church in sorrow, a suffering Church, but out of whose suffering there cometh an increase of the saints. It is a period when the saints are multiplied in the midst of persecution.

Michael Wilcock has some good comments

unity of God's pe3ople - she exists before Christ is born and after Christ's ascension. She is later identified as the bride of Christ. Keep in mind that thgere are multiple4 images of th3 chu4ch. Sue is an army, a mother of us all, a bride of Christ, the mother of Christ

The corporate interpretation is also suggested by the allusion in v 2 to OT metaphors representing Israel as a pregnant mother whose birth pangs represent the suffering of foreign captivity and whose imminent delivery represents future deliverance from foreign oppression and salvation (Isa. 26:17–18 LXX; 66:7–9; Mic. 4:9–10; 5:3; cf. Hos. 13:13).34 Targ. Isa. 26:18 and 66:7 explain the childbirth pains as “distress” or “trouble” (ʿāqāʾ), which underscores their suitability as imagery for tribulation in Rev. 12:2 (so also Isa. 13:8).35 4 Ezra 9:38–10:57 draws a similar picture, based especially on the Isaiah texts, which substantiates further the corporate reading. A heavenly woman identified as Zion bears in much travail and pain a son who is identified as the community of Israel. The son dies and comes back to life, and the woman then shines with a heavenly brilliance, which is interpreted respectively as Israel’s captivity and subsequent restoration. These prophetic texts themselves and Rev. 12:2 were inspired by Gen. 3:15–16 (explicitly alluded to in Rev. 12:17), where it is prophesied that   Eve will bear in the pain of birth a future seed who will smite the head of the Serpent. One more text from Isaiah comes to mind in light of the collection of Isaiah texts that have already been seen as partially lying behind the portrayal of the woman in v 1 and her travail in v 2. Isa. 51:2–3, 9–11 speaks of “Sarah who gave birth . . . in pain” to her child, the woman Zion, whom God promised to “comfort” in “all her desert places,” redeeming her out of captivity, as he did at the Exodus when he “cut Rahab in pieces . . . and pierced the dragon.” This has such striking similarities with Rev. 12:1–12 that it must have echoed in John’s mind along with the other Isaiah texts.36 The influence of all the above-noted Isaiah passages is further apparent from the numerous allusions to Isaiah 40–66 used to describe the bride of Christ in Revelation 2137 and the references to Zion as a mother with “seed” (σπέρμἀ in Isa. 54:1–3; 61:9–10; 65:9, 23; and 66:10, 22, which also confirm the corporate interpretation of the woman.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 630-631. accord://read/NIGTC#83611

Scholars debate whether the woman represents Mary, the church, Israel, or Jerusalem (Beasley-Murray, 191–97; Mounce, 235).

John E. Stanley, Revelation, Asbury Bible Commentary; ed. Eugene E. Carpenter and Wayne McCown; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), paragraph 12782. accord://read/Asbury_Commentary#12782

1–2 The pageant opens with the display of a wondrous sign in the sky. A woman appears who is clothed with the sun, crowned with twelve stars, with the moon under her feet. As in 12:3 and 15:1, the word “sign” is to be understood as a great spectacle that points to the consummation (cf. Luke 21:11, 25; Acts 2:19). Elsewhere in Revelation the word is used of the deceptive miracles performed by the representatives of Satan (13:13, 14; 16:14; 19:20). Although the woman gives birth to the Messiah, she is not to be understood as Mary the mother of Jesus but the messianic community, the ideal Israel.3 Zion as the mother of the people of God is a common theme in Jewish writings (Isa 54:1; 2 Esdr 10:7; cf. Gal 4:26). It is out of faithful Israel that the Messiah will come. It should cause no trouble that within the same chapter the woman comes to signify the church (v. 17). The people of God are one throughout all redemptive history. The early church did not view itself as discontinuous with faithful Israel. As God covers himself “in light as with a garment” (Ps 104:2), so the woman is clothed with the sun. The world may despise the true Israel and hold it in lowest esteem, but from God’s point of view she is a radiant bride (cf. Jer 2:2). She stands as an obvious contrast to the scarlet whore of chapter 17. The moon beneath her feet (perhaps as a footstool) speaks of dominion, and the crown of twelve stars depicts royalty. The radiant woman is about to give birth to a child. She cries out in pain as she is about to deliver. The OT frequently pictured Israel as a woman in travail. Isaiah speaks of Israel in bondage as “a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain” (Isa 26:17; cf. 66:7; Mic 4:10). In John’s vision the woman in travail is “the true Israel in her premessianic agony of expectation.”

Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 231–232.

In many ways the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse represents the most pivotal of all the book’s paragraphs from a hermeneutical point of view. Doubtless one of the most profound verses in the entire book is v. 11. The key to understanding chap. 12 is the ability to identify the persons or the signs in its paragraphs. If one properly identifies these “signs,” then the understanding of the chapter follows with relative ease. More important, chap. 12 will operate as something of a key to the understanding of the rest of the Apocalypse and, by virtue of that insight, an understanding of the plan of God for the ages. 12:1–6 The seer of Patmos now beholds a sign that appears in the heavens. “Appeared” is the aorist passive indicative of horaō and emphasizes the fact that the sign appeared against the backdrop of the vault of the heavens. The sign, further described in the NIV as “great and wondrous,” indicating its importance, includes three individuals who must be identified.139 The first is a woman clothed with the sun (v. 1). She is about to give birth to a child. The second person to be identified is the male child whom she bears (v. 5). Standing before her is an ominous red dragon waiting to devour her child upon birth. Since both the male child and the great red dragon will be easily identified, the interpreter is left with the problem of identifying the radiant woman. Once again, a wide variety of interpretations have been held throughout Christian history. However, the three major ones are that the woman represents Mary, the mother of our Lord; the woman represents the church; and, finally, the woman represents the offspring of Abraham (i.e., the Jewish people). The idea that the radiant woman is Mary the Lord’s mother is understandably popular among Roman Catholic interpreters, indeed, carrying a certain appeal and natural understanding since the New Testament cannot be clearer that Jesus is the virgin-born son of Mary of Nazareth. Hence the Messiah is the child to be born. However, this identification also exhibits significant problems. First, Mary is always presented in the Scriptures as a peasant girl from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, and nowhere does she appear clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, stars on her head. Only later in church history does one find the development of Marian piety and begin to see Mary gloriously displayed in iconography. Neither does Mary flee into the wilderness where she is kept “for 1,260 days” as seen in v. 6, or “a time, times and half a time” in v. 14. These last two references might be taken by some to reference the flight to Egypt of Joseph and Mary, following the attempt of Herod to kill all the babies in Bethlehem (Matt 2:13–18), but the three and one-half years, 1,260 day reckoning cannot be made to fit with this; and the other details provided simply do not favor the possibility that Mary is in view. The idea that the radiant woman is the church must be dismissed as even less plausible. Christ gives birth to the church; the church does not give birth to the Lord. Nowhere is the church presented in such pageantry, and some of the same objections to identifying the radiant woman with Mary are also applicable to the idea that this radiant woman is the church. What can be asked, given the fact that many of John’s readers would be Jewish, is what identification would a Jewish individual immediately make with the radiant woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head? For any Jewish reader this would call to mind the dream of Joseph recorded in Genesis 37, a dream that failed to endear Joseph to his 11 brothers. The second of Joseph’s two dreams, recorded in Genesis 37:9, saw the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowing down to Joseph; and the similarity of the two visions would be brought to any Jewish mind, especially given the propensity of John to be influenced by the Old Testament. The woman is clothed with the sun, the moon is under her feet, and she has a crown of 12 stars on her head, evidently representing the 12 tribes of Israel. In 12:2 she is pregnant and in travail or labor; she is about to give birth. A dragon awaits the birth of this child also; and the woman gives birth to a male child, who will rule all nations with an iron scepter (v. 5). The woman flees into a desert place in the wilderness where God takes care of her for 1,260 days. The earliest promises to Abraham included a posterity numbered as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashore, a land to call his own, but most important of all, a messianic promise that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). While in some sense of the word most of the nations, if not all of them on the face of the earth, have been blessed by various Jewish individuals and their contributions, the universality of this promise can only be fulfilled in the Messiah, so clearly God’s plan for redemption through the Messiah is to be realized as one of the promises to Abraham. The Messiah will be born to the offspring of Abraham. He will be a Jewish Messiah. The only effective and appropriate identification of the radiant woman, then, is to see her as the ethnic offspring of Abraham, the Jewish people. This accounts for the fact that many scholars have claimed that the radiant woman is representative of the Jewish nation, which gives birth to the Messiah.144 In v. 3 the third sign, the dragon, is introduced. He is warlike, fiery red in color, and has seven heads, 10 horns, and seven kingly crowns, which will identify him with the final form of imperial suzerainty that John will watch as the rising of the dragon-inspired beast from the sea in chap. 13. An additional item that helps still further in identifying the dragon, however, is added to the text at this point. The dragon’s tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. This is an apparent reference to the precosmic fall of Satan from heaven. This heavenly conspiracy was led by Satan, but a significant number of angels were cobelligerents with him and so forfeited their “home” (Jude 6) in heaven. This fall is plainly mentioned in 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; and perhaps Rev 12:7–10; and many interpreters believe that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 in the lamentations on the kings of Tyre and Babylon say more than can adequately be said, even granting poetic license, about those two earthly kings. These interpreters suggest that while the lamentations of Isaiah and Ezekiel are indeed about those kings mentioned, the text goes beyond those earthly monarchs to the power that stands behind them, namely, an anointed cherub who lifted up his heart in pride against God and therefore was relieved of his position and cast out of heaven in a precosmic conflict. He had a following, and those angels that kept not “their positions of authority” (Jude 6), most of whom were imprisoned until the day of judgment, followed Satan in his rebellion and also were flung from the heavens to the earth. The dragon is seen postured in front of the woman who is in labor and about to give birth. His purpose is not hidden. His intention is to “devour” (kataphagē) her child upon its birth. In other words, the purpose of the dragon is to frustrate the redemptive purpose of God and if possible to destroy the work of God.

Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 259–264.

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